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The Importance of Play in Infant Development

author image Shelley Frost
Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience come from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.
The Importance of Play in Infant Development
A father playing with his baby on the floor. Photo Credit MIXA next/MIXA/Getty Images

Learning through play and interactions with others begins from birth. As your baby gets closer to her first birthday, she stays alert for longer periods of time and has more control, allowing her to play more complex games and activities. Your baby may not play the same as a toddler, but many simple games and toys offer you the tools to support her development through play.

Developing Physical Skills

Babies develop major physical skills during the first year of life. From 0 to 3 months, physical milestones include lifting the head and chest from a stomach-lying position, stretching and kicking his feet when on his back, according to HealthyChildren.org. From 4 to 7 months, he rolls, sits with support, reaches and transfers objects. From 8 to 12 months, he should crawl, sit unassisted, pull himself to standing and walk along furniture. Age-appropriate play helps your baby reach physical milestones by giving him practice with these skills. He also learns how his body works and how to control it. Toys held in front of him during tummy time encourage him to lift his head and strengthen trunk muscles. A toy just out of his reach pushes him to roll, scoot or crawl to reach it. Toys with a thick grip that are easy for infants to hold improve grasp, teach them to transfer from one hand to the other and improve hand-eye coordination. Baby entertainment centers encourage your baby to pull himself to standing.

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Social Butterfly

In the first three months, babies study facial expressions of others around them and begin imitating those movements themselves. By 4 to 7 months, your baby should respond to the emotions of those around her and show more interest in playing socially. From 8 to 12 months, she should show preferences for people or things, imitate others during play, and may act shy or become upset when her parents leave. Interactive play time with caregivers teaches your child basic social skills. She sees emotions and reactions to situations. She builds trust with her caregivers who provide her with safe, enjoyable play time.

Baby Genius in Training

Play offers experiences that help your infant learn about his world. He makes connections between his movements and the reactions they cause. For example, when a baby pushes a ball, he learns that it rolls away. When he bumps a block tower, he sees it fall over. Play also gives your infant a chance to learn problem-solving skills, according to the Zero to Three website. He tests different actions to get the results he wants. Up to 3 months, cognitive milestones include following an object and recognizing familiar things. From 4 to 7 months, he should work to reach items that aren't close to him and find items that aren't completely visible. By 8 to 12 months, play helps babies reach cognitive milestones such as using items the way they are meant to be used, imitating more complex movements and being able to find something that is out of view.

Budding Chatterbox

Even though she won't hold a conversation with you, your baby's early experiences with language help her develop her own understanding of words. Interactive play expands her vocabulary by allowing her to hear you say many words. The back and forth that comes with play mirrors the basic back and forth of conversations, according to Zero to Three. Effective communication involves acknowledging the other person's emotions, actions and words. By responding and even imitating your baby's expressions and actions, you teach her this basic principle of communication.

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